Forty years after the liberation of the German death camps, Sol Schumann (Rubens) seems indistinguisbable from other Holocaust survivors in Brooklyn-attending shul regularly, sharing Sabbath dinners every week with his two adult sons. But Schumann has a monstrous past: He served the Nazis as a kapo, one of the Jews appointed to discipline fellow prisoners. (He was just following orders, he claims, and survival can be a brutal task.) Jeffrey Sweet’s The Action Against Sol Schumann, inspired by a real case that shook New York’s Jewish community in the 1980s,lays out the issues raised by this history with the dry diligence of a competent trial lawyer.
In Amy Feinberg’s production for the Hypothetical Theatre Company, the show’s ensemble often stays onstage to watch insilent judgment as the play unfolds in a succession of brief, expositional scenes; Sweet tactfully leaves Schumann’s actual crimes to the audience’s imagination. The play is almost all exterior and the effect is less chilling than chilly; scenes that could have pulsed with emotion are rendered instead as stiff point-counterpoint. Douglas Dickerman generates some passion as Schumann’s self-righteous, Jewisher-than-thou son, and the always invaluable Susan O’Connor crafts a full character out of Sol’s lawyer. But by the time The Action Against Sol Schumann reaches its rather melodramatic finale, we have learned surprisingly little about the man at its core. That Sweet’s well-intentioned play lacks action is problem enough; surely it shouldn’t be also be short on Sol Schumann.